Two lawmakers on a yet-to-be-implemented long-term care oversight committee in Washington state right were Featured Wednesday on The Impact, a show providing news and analysis from the Washington State Capitol.
Discussions of the new social program created by Democrats in 2019 included solvency issues, attempted repeals and possible changes to benefit some taxpayers. strength be eligible for what is called the WA Cares Fund.
Sen. Karen Keizer, D-Des Moines, and Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, also spoke about changes to the law during this year’s legislative session. The changes included an 18-month payroll tax deferral of 58 cents per $100. W2 workers will now start paying this in July 2023. The changes also included additional exemption categories for some, but not all, taxpayers who will never see a benefit from WA Cares. More “fixes,” as lawmakers call them, are expected in the next legislative session.
Harris and Keizer said a dialogue is underway about how to make the program’s $36,500 lifetime benefit portable. Currently, even if people contribute to WA Cares for the required number of years (10), leaving the state means they receive no dollars. Keiser assured viewers that lawmakers see the injustice in this and want to fix it. “If you’ve paid your premiums, you should be able to get some benefit,” she said.
I agree. But even if lawmakers fix portability, it’s one of WA Cares’ biggest problems: Many workers will pay and get nothing in return. Some will not need long-term care, others will not be invested in the program, and still others will not meet the requirement to need help with at least three activities of daily living. . All of us will be have any vital needs. Keeping more of our income could help us save and invest in these needs. A government-controlled one-size-fits-all savings account is a mistake.
Both lawmakers said they expected the “dials” of the WA Cares program would need adjustments to keep it solvent. The tax rate could increase and/or the promised benefit decrease.
The advantage is already a problem. While telling workers of all incomes that they can have peace of mind that their long-term care needs are being met by WA Cares, the $36,500 benefit is not enough to provide that peace of mind. . Keizer, a supporter of the law, admits that it won’t be a long-term solution for every individual.
The payroll tax will, however, reduce state Medicaid spending on long-term care by shifting more of the burden onto workers.
Medicaid is the safety net that already exists for people who need long-term care that they did not expect. “The average person who stays on Medicaid for a year in their own home spends about $33,000,” Keizer says. It’s not much different than the WA Cares Fund benefit, but it will cost a lot more for low-income workers.
Asked about the hundreds of thousands of people who will be exempt from the program and its tax, Keizer replied, “Very well. If they are not covered, we do not have to pay benefits. So it’s really zero sum for the program because they’re just not counted in the overall pool.
This is not exactly the case. Although not taking a worker’s money for WA Cares means that the state will not be required to pay a WA Cares benefit, the state might not have had to anyway, being given the many barriers to eligibility in the law. And the new exemption categories were created because they represented people who would contribute to WA Cares but could not already benefit from the fund.
When asked to crystallize the law’s future, Keizer said she hoped for more fixes. Harris said, “I have to listen to people. … It’s my job, to be their representative and to listen.
Voters have already voted down a funding measure tied to the law, and nearly 500,000 workers have applied for an exemption from WA Cares, choosing private long-term care insurance instead. Many other workers are expressing disappointment at having to pay a new payroll tax for an inadequate benefit they may never even qualify for.
Repeal is the “solution” we need. Let’s hope lawmakers are listening.